Sprint Nextel Turns up Its LTE Network

Carl Weinschenk

Sprint Nextel has officially joined the ranks of U.S. carriers offering Long Term Evolution (LTE) services.

Various media outlets, including The Verge, are reporting that the carrier’s transition from WiMax to LTE culminated this weekend with the turn-up of services in the Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Atlanta and Kansas City areas. Actually, The Verge piece was written late last week in anticipation of the launch, but the company and other outlets confirm that it happened. The company's release suggests that more than the five areas now have service.

The Verge story says that the four phones that use LTE on the Nextel network at this point are the Evo 4G LTE, the Galaxy S III, the Galaxy Nexus and the Viper 4G LTE. The piece says that some subscribers already were getting services before the launch due to testing.

Thus, let the scrutiny and comparisons begin:

Speeds so far appear to be about on par with what we've heard before — about 10Mbps down and 2Mbps up. That's much faster that Sprint's WiMAX network and far and away better than its aging EV-DO 3G service, but it comes up short (especially on the uplink side) against Verizon's and AT&T's LTE.

A few years ago, there was quite a horse race between LTE and WiMax. Verizon Wireless and AT&T were early advocates of LTE. Sprint Nextel and Clearwire were in the WiMax camp. Both are making the move to LTE. Clearwire, however, is using a variant of the technology that is different than that used by AT&T and Verizon, according to WirelessWeek. The site says that Ovum predicts that that flavor of the technology — Time Division LTE (TD LTE) — will represent 25 percent of LTE connections by 2016.

Here is a closer look at what Sprint is doing, courtesy of PCMag. The site tested the LTE network in five locales in and around Atlanta. It compared performance against AT&T and Verizon, and pointed out that it was not a completely apples-to-apples test since Sprint knew the testing was coming, provided locales and tuned the phones the testers used. Those caveats aside, valuable input was provided by the test:

Sprint's results are fast, although they're not as fast as the peak speeds we've seen from AT&T and Verizon. That's because Sprint is using 5MHz channels rather than the 10MHz channels the other carriers are using in most cities. If you compare Sprint's speeds to four cities where AT&T is using 5MHz channels (Charlotte, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Raleigh), Sprint is extremely competitive.

A byproduct of the movement is that one of the early icons of the telecommunications explosion — Sprint’s push-to-talk Nextel network — is shutting down. This piece at The Kansas City Star site suggests that this is a milestone and, in a more pragmatic sense, will bring 5.4 million customers into the marketplace for replacement phones and services.

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